Haiku Or Senryu, That Is The Question (A Limerick Explanation)

Every so often I get missives from poetry purists. Their message? Most of my haiku are by strict definition senryu.

Now I hate to admit it, but these sticklers are technically correct. For while haiku and senryu take the same form — three line, seventeen syllable poems (five-seven-five) — historically their subject matter and attitude differ.

If you’re waxing poetic about the physical world, chances are what you’ve written is a classic haiku. Throw in a seasonal reference, and it’s a haiku slam dunk.

But if your topic is human nature and human foibles, it’s probably best to label your verse a senryu, especially if you’re being satirical.

Confused? Don’t worry — most people find all this perplexing. In fact, there are lots of articles discussing this very question, and they don’t all agree with one another. Which is probably why so many people (like me) tend to take the easy way out and label all of our seventeen syllable masterpieces haiku.

But please don’t throw up your hands in unpoetic bewilderment. My explanation in the form of a three-verse limerick just might help or, at least, amuse you:

Haiku Or Senryu, That Is The Question
By Madeleine Begun Kane

So how do you write a haiku?
And when’s a haiku senryu?
Both are five-seven-five,
But heavens alive—
All their diff’rences cause much ado.

The distinction’s confounding to some.
Don’t confuse them — you might be called “Bum!”
If your verse has unfurled
On the natural world,
Then you’ve followed haiku’s rule of thumb.

But if seventeen syllables speak,
Not of nature, but human critique,
With satirical pearls
Mocking people — guys, girls —
You’ve embarked on a senryu streak.

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5 Responses to “Haiku Or Senryu, That Is The Question (A Limerick Explanation)”

  1. Steve Nance says:

    Very nice, scholarly limericks!

    Tall trees break the wind
    Like old man in winter night
    So what am I then?

  2. madkane says:

    Thanks Steve! Yours made me laugh!

  3. Veralynne says:

    You’ve taught me more than a few tricks
    ‘Bout haiku, senryu and lim’ricks
    But to teach USING each?
    That’s no day at the beach!
    What a pro–like with ALL of your antics!

  4. Steve Nance says:

    It may make you just a bit frantic
    Keeping up with these matters semantic
    But the form’s just a mold;
    The ideas they hold
    Shouldn’t let the “sem-” jam up the “antics”!

  5. madkane says:

    Thanks Steve and Veralynne for your entertaining limericks!